This woman entrepreneur quit her IBM job to follow her ‘sweet’ dreams
Sahithya Raj says she was born with a sweet tooth. Growing up, she would pester her family to try different desserts.
As a SAP BI consultant at IBM, Sahithya got the opportunity to travel across the world and fulfil her ‘sweet’ dreams. She sampled desserts from various countries and was hooked.
Sahithya Raj, founder of Sweetooth.
Along with a fondness for sweets, Sahithya is an avid baker too. In October 2017, while she was still busy with her corporate career, she started to cater to orders of brownies, cupcakes, cookies and muffins from her apartment kitchen under the name ‘The Sweetooth’. During Diwali that year, she received orders for gift baskets, which were extremely popular and she started to receive repeat customers.
In December 2017 she decided to take her passion forward. She quit her job at IBM, and interned at a prestigious 4-star hotel in Hyderabad. Following a rise in the number of orders for her baked delicacies, her home kitchen could no longer keep up with the demand.
In March 2018, she opened a small production unit in Madhapur, in the city and by the end of the year, she shifted to a much bigger space right across the street from this production unit.
Today, Sweetooth has grown from the home kitchen it used to be to a production facility that employs over 30 people most of whom worked as chefs in renowned star hotels in the city.
A tough start
Sahithya is an electronic engineer with an MBA degree. But at the back of her mind, she knew following her passion would give her more joy.
Starting up was tough because she had no insights on entrepreneurship.
“When I was starting out, I used to have several sleepless nights as I did not know if my investment in the machinery was right or I was not sure if the business model was right. There were days when I visited Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru alone to interact with the dealers personally. I didn't want to put my family under pressure so I used to visit these cities and come back on the same day,” says the 31-year-old entrepreneur.
Today, Sweetooth is a thriving B2B business whose desserts and breads are available in cafes and restaurants across the city. Its client list includes Barista Coffee, HMS host flight kitchens, Makers of Milkshakes, Creamstone, Zee Loft cafes, Carnival Cinemas and several convention centres and caterers. It has also recently set up retail stores in IT tech parks across Hyderabad.
Sweetooth is famed for its fusion desserts like Gulab Jamun Cheesecake and Butterscotch Rasmalai. It also makes preservative-free, regular, and gourmet breads. In total, it produces over 250 products including croissants, burger buns, cakes, pastries, brownies, chocolates, puddings, cheesecakes, and sugar rolls.
Some of Sweetooth's mouth-watering desserts and breads.
A helping hand
Sahithya’s startup is incubated by WE HUB, a Government of Telangana’s incubator for women entrepreneurs. The programme, she says, has helped her understand the importance of credit linkages and has given her hands-on training in handling finances of the company and financial discipline. It also guided her on the processes, paperwork and business plan to procure a collateral-free loan for her business. She believes that the financial influx was instrumental in growing her business.
Even during the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, Sahithya is receiving help from the incubator. Although her business is affected because of the shutdown, new opportunities and avenues have emerged through this situation.
Sweetooth has been closed since the second week of March, translating into a considerable loss of business. Before the lockdown, it was making around Rs 32 lakh a month but orders have gone down as restaurants and cafes are closed or offering only delivery services during this period.
Since most of the products are preservative-free, Sahithya had to dispose of finished goods worth Rs 2 lakh. Even raw materials had to be disposed of as they only have a shelf life of two-three weeks. Her payments have been stalled as most of it runs on a credit basis. She is finding it difficult to procure raw material and packaging products as only essential services are allowed.
With the help of WE HUB, she is working on customer acquisition and brand footprint during this time. It has facilitated communication with last-mile delivery apps for essential delivery. She is trying to get her products online through association with Big Basket and Nukkad Shop. The incubator has also helped her connect with retail stores and supermarkets.
WE HUB has helped the startup strategise its business plan during the pandemic by focusing on manufacturing only the essential food items - bread and buns. It helped the startup connect with the Joint Director of the Agricultural Department to bridge the supply chain by providing the essential food items to government-run Rythu Bazaars, which facilitates a direct interface between farmers and consumers. It also helped the startup in filing for the food processing subsidy scheme and also getting it registered under MSME-COVID relief, under which it will be able to supply bread to hospitals.
“This has given us an opportunity to realise the untapped markets and this is a segment which will sustain even post-lockdown to add to the revenues,” says Sahithya.
Post-COVID, Sahithya feels that most businesses will be moving online and she will also take efforts in that direction. With increased health concerns, eateries and food businesses will have to revisit sanitation processes and social distancing to ensure worker safety, she feels.